Famous Ring Wars: Ali vs Frazier 1 – Part 1
By John F. McKenna (McJack): It is hard to believe that it was forty years ago that Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared off for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. The fight was held on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden and was hyped like nothing this author had ever seen. The electricity in the air was contagious, with people who were not into boxing also getting into the act. Muhammad Ali, AKA “The Louisville Lip” and Joe Frazier, AKA “Smokin’ Joe” were both determined to prove to everyone who the best heavyweight in the world was.
Ali had been the Heavyweight Champion, but was stripped of his title for his refusal to be inducted into the Army and was quoted as saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Viet Cong anyway.” Ali claimed exemption from the draft because he was a minister in the Black Muslim religion. Ali called Joe Louis an “Uncle Tom” at the time because Louis had been critical of Muhammad’s stance on the draft. Not only was Ali stripped of his title, but he was also prosecuted by the Federal Government. Three years later he was vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court and returned to the ring after a three and a half year exile.
When Ali returned to the ring his first opponent was Jerry Quarry in October 1970. Ali stopped Quarry on cuts in the 3rd round. In December Ali stopped a rugged Oscar Bonavena in the 15th round. Ali’s victories over Quarry and Bonavena set the stage for his showdown with Joe Frazier, who had become the Heavyweight Champion during Ali’s exile. It is this author’s opinion that Ali needed two or three more fights to regain his pre exile form. The great Sugar Ray Robinson, who retired after his 1952 bout with Light Heavyweight Champion Joey Maxim, required five or six fights after his two and a half year layoff to regain his championship form. Sugar Ray did finally win back the middleweight title when he KO’d Bobo Olson in 1955. Because Ali’s style was similar to Robinson’s in that he relied heavily on speed and timing, this writer believed he needed more time before he took on “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier.
Joe Frazier won the Heavyweight Olympic Gold Medal in 1964, the same year that Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) won the Heavyweight Title by defeating Sonny Liston. After turning professional, Frazier emerged as a heavyweight contender by defeating Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Buster Mathis and Eddie Machen. Frazier won the undisputed Heavyweight Championship when he KO’d WBA Champion Jimmy Ellis in the 5th round on February 16, 1970. Joe had given Ali financial aid during his exile and worked hard to help Ali get his boxing license back so that he could fight once more. Although they did not always agree politically, Frazier did not think Ali should be prevented from pursuing his boxing career. When the contracts were finally inked for “The Fight of The Century”, both fighters were to receive an unheard of two and a half million dollars each. You got the impression from Frazier though, that he would have taken the fight for nothing. He had a score to settle with the trash talking Ali, who had said some pretty nasty things about Joe. Frazier was not buying the line that it was all done to hype the fight and build up the gate.